Thursday, April 16, 2015

My Best 22 Ideas, and a Personal Invitation

The public inventor works in the light.

Transparency facilitates cooperation. I've published my best 22 ideas at GitHub, a platform for shared collaboration. Comments are welcome. The quality of my presentation will improve, but never delay publication to improve quality---release early and often.

 I apologize for those of you who may be unfamiliar with GitHub. You should be able to at least read the ideas above, and you are free to email me, but I would rather you comment publicly at GitHub by opening an issue there so that all can see your comment.

I believe the goals of PIFAH deserve a full explanation, which I have not prepared. However, you can find my personal invitation and a vision statement at the GitHub repo. Here is the README at the GitHub repo:

 Public Invention for All Humanity 

 A Personal Invitation 

The creation of new technology is not the only or best way to help our fellow-beings. Love is more important than lasers, and kindness more important than computers. Still, many of us are better suited to serve humanity in code than in a sermon, or holding a test tube rather than the hand of the dying. If you are one of those persons, I invite you to participate with me in a project I call Public Invention For All Humanity (PIFAH). Throughout 2015, we hope to run a number of projects best described as “inventions” that will be valuable to humanity. This is not particularly original. This is yet another project in the exponentially growing tradition of working for the public good.

What we do hope to use some modern principles:

  • We will be completely transparent and open from the first. 
  • Everything we produce will be shared to everyone without exception. 
  • We will organize our using an Agile methodology, whether our work is software, hardware, research, or education. 

In other words, this will be an free-libre open-source project that welcomes participation from the public and seeks to organize work so that the work so that as many hands can pitch in as possible, and so that as many voices can contribute as possible.

 I am not committed to this project. If I find an existing project that can utilize my talents better, I may drop PIFAH to assist others. I don’t want this to be about me.

But of course that is inevitable, at least at the beginning. There is no point in false humility. I really want to act as the head coach of PIFAH, and I think I can do it well. I have an adequate technological resume, particularly as a computer programmer. More importantly, however, I enjoy leading teams and am good at it. I mentor people well. Finally, I am able and willing to devote myself full-time to this project, at least for a while.

You may wish to examine our project concepts to see if any appeal to you.

-- Robert L. Read, PhD

How to Contribute 

We welcome your participation. You are welcome to email me at <>. However, as a public project, it is even better for you to comment publicly. You can do this by opening an "issue" here at GitHub. If you want to add to or improve one of the existing documents, you can do this with a "pull request". 

 In general, each project will have a set of "stories". This is a technique developed by the Agile community. We welcome you to take on the execution of a story if that fits your talents. Writing new stories is also very important activity. 

I hope that we will have need for many talents. I am a computer scientist. I greatly admire artists but don't pretend that I can create art. We will always have a need for artists, writers, and educators. We will also need chemists, welders, mechanical engineers, 3D modellers, software engineers, physicists, biologists, mycologists---we exclude no field of endeavor. 

In summary, you can contribute by:

  • Suggesting a new project, 
  • Working on a story,
  • Offering to improve our art or writing, 
  • Offering to lead a project, 
  • Teaching us something new, or 
  • Even suggesting non-PIFAH proejcts that we should contribute to. 

If you are not familiar with GitHub or git, please email me to give you assistance.


Some of the projects proposed here involve dangerous chemicals, powerful forces, fire, explosive gases, and biological hazards.

The important thing is to remain safe  at all times and not to proceed with an experiment until you have proper safety equipment and training. In particular, although we encourage young people to participate in PIFAH, they should not participate without adult supervision.

We will attempt to discuss safety precautions within each project. However, because this is a distributed project and each participant may be creating their own experiments and machines, it will not be possible for us to provide safety guidance in all cases. Please proceed carefully at your own risk.
  Creative Commons License
PIFAH Personal Invitation by Robert L. Read is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Waterfall Assisted-Acquisition Services, Training, and Education

by Dave Zvenyach and Robert L. Read, PhD

18F Consulting cares about our customers. We want to give you not what you need, but what you want. Developing software is difficult; we understand you want a methodology that provides you with plausible deniability. So, today, we are proud to pre-announce our latest offering: “Waterfall Assisted-Acquisition Services, Training, and Education” (WAASTE).

The federal government has spent literally years perfecting this WAASTE methodology. When it
is released, we promise it will support these features:

  • No matter how simple the use case, every component will be highly engineered using the most baroque processes currently available. 
  • WAASTE ensures a turnaround time comfortable for government: no faster than 2 years for the first set of deliverables. 
  • With WAASTE, project managers have no work to do beyond the initial requirements, ensuring maximum vendor ability to slavishly follow your initial thoughts through to a final product.

18F Consulting is committed to delivering WAASTE to you before our money runs out. In the
mean time, any agency interested in WAASTE should spend two years carefully analyzing
exactly how your software will be Blackberry-enabled 5 years from now. Technology changes
quickly, but the ideas of government are eternal and unchanging. WAASTE guarantees lock-in
of the current understanding of technology through this protracted process.

Through our proprietary WAASTE Requirements™ gathering process we guarantee at least
1500 small, isolated, capricious, and incongruous WAASTE Requirements™ presented to you
electronically in a state-of-the-art XML file. For an additional fee we will conduct focus groups to
provide the exculpatory appearance of respect for user input, but of course their input will not
affect the WAASTE Requirements™. Completely free of charge, we will prioritize all WAASTE
Requirements™ based on our feelings at the time.

In recent years, pernicious new fads such as “Test-Driven Development” (TDD) have emerged,
threatening the very core of the WAASTE methodology. 18F Consulting is reacting by
developing our own alternative test restriction system, called Delay-Oriented Assessment
(DOA). Our methodology prevents duplicate effort by assiduously postponing testing until the
last possible moment. DOA permits testing only by entrusted QA experts, untainted by
knowledge of the project or its users.

To be completely WAASTE-ful, we limit communications to tightly defined narrow channels
through detailed memoranda, a process we call MemOnly (patent pending). In-person
interactions create the possibility that teams will deviate from the WAASTE Requirements™.
For maximum WAASTE, you control all communications. You get to specify your project in
excruciating detail. Eventually, your precise vision will be implemented. If the project is deemed
overbudget, past-deadline, and a total failure by end-users and higher-ups with unrealistic
expectations of working software, you can simply exhibit mountains of paperwork and walk

We realize that others might promote “modern” software development practices such as set
forth in the “Agile Manifesto.” We at 18F Consulting are preparing our own comprehensive
response in a Waterfall PowerPoint Presentation, drawn from the outstanding track record of
success in Federal IT procurement. We expect it will be published any year now.

If you would like to make your next major project WAASTE-ful, please fax us a detailed

(Please note, the WAASTE methodology is proprietary to 18F Consulting, notwithstanding 17
U.S.C. § 105 or 18F’s Open Source Policy)

Happy 1st of April!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

LibrePlanet 2015 Was Great, and Some Suggestions for 2016

LibrePlanet 2015 was good. I learned:

  • That VMWare is flatly refusing to comply with the GPL and the Software Freedom Conservancy has felt compelled, after years of trying to work with them, to sue them. I am becoming a member of the SFC as of right now.
  • That freedoms are continually eroded, and every expansion of freedom leads to new attempts to subvert it, often very subtly.
  • The fact that most hardware systems are making it very difficult to run free software.
  • I learned of software systems I had not known of before:
  •, a system for automatically finding the provenance of images:
  • Tahoe-lafs, a distributed file system:
  • Scala, apparently an emerging winner of functional languages:
  • A secure social network (doesn't look ready for prime time):
  • TOR, secure browsing:
  • PublicLaboratory, Do-it-yourself science with an environmental focus:
Mostly, I was reminded the precious gift that Free Software has given the world.  Without the GPL, there would be no Linux. The would be no Wikipedia. No Android OS. Probably no Mac OS either. All of us benefit from the the work of the Free Software Foundation, whether we know it or not and whether we contribute back or not.

And I would like to see even more next year.  Here are some things that I would like to participate in next year.  I believe if these could be organized alongside the typical tracks it would make the conference far more life-altering.
  • Hack parties.  Perhaps these were going on, and I just didn't get invited. But I believe organized, or at least, seeded, or suggested, work parties, would allow participates to have the pleasure of more strenuous stimulation and deeper social interaction.
  • Activism exercises. We could, for example, have a one-hour session specifically to inform people about the Software Freedom Conservancy and their action to defend the GPL by bring VMWare into compliance.
  • Crypto parties.  I don't know much about practical cryptography, and I care less about it than a lot of people.  But I want to learn. This would be a great place to invite outsiders and the media.
  • A "Learn about Licensing" practical session.  This could also be opened to the public. I believe this could be combined with a campaign to get GitHub users to use, or switch to, or "fork into" free licenses instead of merely permissive licenses.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Learnings from sewing a Nightie

I sewed this nightie for my wife for Valentine's Day.  Of course, I bought her one from Macy's as a backup---some risks aren't worth taking.

I used primarily a video by GiannyL as a basis.  However, I made some modifications---I made the spaghetti straps myself out of the same material, and my wife wasn't interested in any lace trim.

How does it compare to store-bought night gown?

The neck curve puckered a little because I didn't notch it.
You could probably buy a comparable garment for $25-50.  I spent $20, and ten hours.  The looks are comparable.  My seams are imperfect, but if you don't look closely you wouldn't notice, and when my wife is wearing it I have better things to look at.  I suspect my garment is "sturdier" --- but who needs a sturdy nightgown?  The one advantage is that I did get to choose precisely the color I wanted.  My wife is a redhead and looks great in royal blue.  The "satin" is really polyester with a shiny side and a less shiny side. The less shiny side is a little coarse to be against skin, so I made this harder than GiannyL's construction by using a French seam on the sides.

A French seam runs up the side, but the bottom doesn't need it.

What I Learned

  • I need to research fabric more. Satin looks nice, but isn't really a great fabric for sleepwear.
  • Sewing curves perfectly requires cutting notches or some other technique that I have yet to master.
  • Satin has zero give. You have to fit it perfectly. Luckily, I was able to do that.
  • I tried to make this with a fitted waist as GiannyL shows.  But my wife's bust is a few inches bigger than her waist.  I made the first model to my wife's waist size, and she couldn't get the waist over her bust. I know this must be obvious to any woman, but now I understand why a standard tight-fitting woman's dress has a zipper in the back: otherwise you can't put it on!  That is really the difference between this garment and a cocktail dress.  To make a dress, I would take in the waist and add a zipper.  Instead, I cut it completely straight down the sides, so basically the waist is the same size as the bust.
  • You can fix things with a seam ripper---but not using the kind of thread I was using with short stitch on satin.  It was impossible to unpick a seam in this situation.
  • Taking body measurements work, but with this fabric, you have to be very precise.
  • Sometimes the garment ends up looking good even when you do a poor job with the details.

Was it worth it?

Once again, in pure economic terms, this was a catastrophic failure: I made about $1 per hour, and have some scrap satin left over. However, if the lessons learn allow me to someday make a properly tailored dress that my wife might be willing to wear, it might be more economical.  In terms of learning and the finished garment, it was another step up the learning curve.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Altering sleeves of a used coat and adding buttons

I'm interested in all things involving home economics, including sewing.  I love doing things that make me feel stupid.  Sewing is hard.  However, with each project I get a little a more comfortable with it.

Of course, it is almost impossible to save any money making your own clothes, now that so many clothes are made by low-paid workers in Asia.  However, altering and mending is much more economical.  I can fix rips and torn seams, and reattach buttons and other fasteners.  I've done this for about ten garments in total from every member of my family in the last year.

Beyond repairing buttons, the next sewing level is to be able to alter clothes.  I like to buy consignment clothes, and have bought a number of blazers for $10 at Goodwill which look great---if they fit correctly.  I weigh about 235 pounds and am only 5'10", so my torso is quite thick compared to the length of my arms.  Also, I have a separated left shoulder, which makes my left arm about 3/4" longer than my right. I can sometimes find clothes which were altered by the previously owner so they fit well---but that of course limits my options to about 1/5th of the clothes that fit me in the chest and shoulders (which is they basic, unalterable sizing for men's coats and shirts.)

So I bought a blue plaid blazer at Goodwill, while I was buying some clothes for my son, as an experiment in alteration.  It fits me in the shoulders.  It is too tight in the tummy---possibly it is is a trim cut.  I didn't even think to button it in the store, but the point is to experiment in any case.  But the sleeves were 2" too long.  I studied a 45 minute video by a professional tailor on how to shorten the sleeves on a man's jacket---but I STILL don't understand how to do it so that you can machine stitch the lining back into the sleeves.  It has something to do with making a hole in the lining so you can turn it inside out---but apparently I am too stupid to understand it.  Finally I gave up and found an article that just said to whip-stitch the lining in place by hand, which worked well.

Like all but the most expensive men's jackets, the buttons on the sleeves are not functional.  They are just decoration left over from the day when men wore coats as a matter of course, and might have to actually "roll up their sleeves".  In the case of this jacket, the 2" taken off actually removed the entire "vent" on the sleeve.  If you shorten a jacket sleeve, you always have to move the buttons---but that is one of the easy things I know how to do.

In fact, I used this opportunity to replace the very plain plastic buttons with hand-made ceramic buttons that are much nicer---little blue dragonflies on a Navy background that went better with the blazer, which, being plaid, will always be a somewhat informal blazer.  I got the buttons from BeadFreaky for $18, which is a little weird for a $10 jacket. It took me about 90 minutes to replace the buttons, and about 5 hours to alter the sleeves---which could probably be cut down to 2 hours with more practice.

The result is, I think, pretty nice.  The blazer now fits if it is unbuttoned---you can see the stretch marks below showing that the waist is too tight, but I don't really need to button it. The sleeves, although sloppy if you look close, fit my arms, and the buttons make the jacket 3 times more interesting than it was.  I learned a lot, am wearing a tiny bit of human love in my buttons, am supporting Goodwill and get a few more years of use out of a quality garment.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I am running for the board of the PIFF

I would like to be elected to the Presidential Innovation Fellows Foundation board.

I was a driving force in the creation of the Foundation, working with other to create the bylaws, obtain incorporation, and obtain the tax-deductible status from the IRS. I have served as the interim treasurer, securing a $2500 gift in addition to my own donation.

I have also, with the help of Danny Chapman, printed some attractively branded cards for the PIFs to use to thank government employees they work with, and to thank other donors.

I will work to accomplish the following goals in my next term if elected:

  • Continue to improve the website with much more personal information.  In the words of Bo Roberts, we need to “Tell the story of the PIFs.”
  • Continue to facilitate fundraising to get us up to about $50K.
  • Start trying to really support paying for some travel to bring PIF alumni in to talk to existing and incoming PIF classes.
  • Start exploring ideas around endowing a Fellowship or supporting international involvement with the Fellows to both learn and teach what we have learned.
  • Support the vision of general American civic hacking community that is aware of and participating in far more Federal projects than they are today.
  • Attempt to appoint a powerful and prestigious advisory board.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The American Rescue Corps

Robert L. Read
September 15, 2014

The American Rescue Corps
— by Robert L. Read
America should create a new uniformed branch of service that focuses on emergency rescues.  Like the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, there should be a Rescue Corps of the USA.  The mission of the Rescue Corps is to maintain American leadership of the free world and promote American ideals by providing effective, life-saving assistance to the whole world on an unprecedented scale and rapidity.
On occasion, the military does this already.  By doing so, they broaden and dilute the primary purpose of the military, which is to carry out war.  The Rescue Corps would partially relieve the military of this burden by being staffed, trained, and equipped to better taken on rescue missions which require minimal security.
Let us imagine a Corps of 10,000 people—very small compared to our military forces.  Let us further imagine that the Corps contains a trained staff whom we would normally think of as:
  • Doctors,
  • Paramedics,
  • Nurses,
  • Infectious disease experts,
  • Linguists,
  • Fire fighters,
  • Construction engineers,
  • Logistics officers,
  • Forensic scientists,
  • Security personnel, 
  • Communication officers, and
  • Transport specialists.
This permanent staff could be augmented by a Reserve, of course.
Let us further imagine that such a Corps utilizes commercial transport as well as military transport capability as its primary deployment capability.  Now, imagine that backed by the prestige of the United States to obtain the right to deploy internationally, the Rescue Corps can quickly deploy to anywhere in the world.
If the Rescue Corps existed today the Ebola outbreak of 2014 would already be contained.  The suffering caused by the earthquake in Haiti would have been greatly lessened.  The hardship wrought by Hurricane Katrina might have been greatly reduced.  The prestige of America would be greatly enhanced.
Such a corps could plan for and train for response to various catastrophes well in advance.  We know that tsunamis and earthquakes will occur again.  Probably wildfires in America will continue to be a problem.  Hurricanes will strike America and our friends on the Caribbean periodically. Oil will spill.  In all probability, a nuclear accident will occur again.
I don’t believe that the Rescue Corps would spend too much time sitting idle.  Lesser emergencies that did not involve the entire Corps could be addressed and would be valuable training exercises and experience for the Corps.
Although the Corps might have a small police force to provide security, it would be very lightly armed by military standards.  The United States might be able to negotiate entry for the Rescue Corps, perhaps ahead of time, in situations where the Marine Corps would not be welcomed.  For example, Tehran is one of the largest cities on one of the most dangerous fault lines in the world.  If we could pre-negotiate the entry of the Rescue Corps into Iran in the case of a  major earthquake striking Tehran, the diplomatic benefits of a successful Rescue deployment might greatly exceed all of its costs.
Backed by the financial power of the USA, the Rescue Corps might purchase massive transport capabilities ahead of disasters via commercial transport.  This would simply be good planning.  In exchange for a retainer and fee in the event of a disaster, an airline might agree to interrupt service by reprioritizing a number of flights to transport thousands of Rescuers and their equipment to a disaster area.  Such commercial contracts could be considered the primary means of deployment for some disasters in some areas, whereas military transport might be the primary deployment mechanism in other cases.
However, domestic deployment of the Rescue Corps might be more frequent than international deployment.  Unquestionably, a reserve capacity at the national level of Rescuers can provide needed buffer capacity to local paramedics and firefighters in the event of locally overwhelming disasters.
By forcing our military to carry out non-war rescue missions, we dilute their training and weaken this primary purpose.  By creating a Rescue Corps, we mitigate this problem and offer Americans a route of service to their country which is primarily about saving lives. The Rescue Corps would be a powerful force for good in the world, and a powerful force for American diplomacy.

Robert L. Read

twitter: @RobertLeeRead